After a hearing lasting just 18 minutes, on April 4, Russia’s Federal Service for the Supervision of Telecommunications, known as Roskomnadzor, ordered the immediate blocking of instant messaging application Telegram, created by the controversial Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, along with its removal from Apple and Googles app stores.
Aware that growing numbers of people were evading the blockade through proxies or VPNs, the government agency has begun to stifle all ways of connecting to Telegram, wiping out more than 17 million IP addresses from Google and Amazon’s servers (you can see the number grow in real time here), in the process, while disrupting all types of services from online games to mobile apps or cryptocurrency exchange pages. Roskomnadzor’s attempts to block Telegram amount to a denial of service attack on the Russian internet: many sites and services unrelated to Telegram are now blocked as part of this Soviet-style exercise in censorship. Nevertheless, says Durov, Telegram continues to operate with relative normality and the company has not detected a significant drop in user activity in Russia. A relatively small company has left the Kremlin with egg on its face and highlighting concerns for the future of the internet in Russia.
Why is the Kremlin putting all these resources into blocking Telegram? The official version is that Telegram refused to provide a backdoor to decipher conversations on the service. Why would Telegram do that, knowing what was at stake? Aside from its commitment to user privacy, the simple fact is that no such backdoor exists. Every Telegram conversation is encrypted by means of a randomly generated code, and the company doesn’t have them. WhatsApp faced a similar situation in Brazil last year, although that was largely due to ignorance and stubbornness of a judge. In Putin’s Russia, the policy is to block any means of communication that escapes government control. [Continue reading…]
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